South Africa vs England: Will the defending champions make a mark?

South Africa (L) England (R) © Getty Images

The 13th game of the ongoing World Cup will have one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes on offer as Sune Luus’ undefeated South Africa will take on Heather Knight’s England. England have lost both their games and have not played anywhere close to the best of their ability.

What’s at stake

England will not only be playing to resurrect their campaign but more than that they will look to keep their campaign alive. Both sides are fairly well matched on paper but two consecutive wins on the trot give the Proteas a slight edge heading into the clash.

South Africa have played well but have not looked their fluent best thus far. They were made to stretch by Bangladesh in the first game and survived a scare against Pakistan in their last match. Their bowling attack is one of the best in the tournament and it hasn’t failed to deliver either. While Ayabonga Khaka took a four-fer in South Africa’s tournament opener to decimate the Bangladeshi batting order, it was spearhead Shabnim Ismail who showed a steely resolve against Bismah Maroof’s side while operating at the death in the last game. She didn’t present the Pakistani batters with anything lose that they could latch on to. Skipper Sune Luus, who is arguably the best spinner in the side, has underbowled herself. She only bowled two overs against Bangladesh and just one more in the last game.

Although Luus underbowling herself hasn’t affected South Africa thus far, the upcoming games are against some of the heavyweights in the tournament and Luus will have to display her magic with the ball. Luus – the captain was made to think in both the matches, the Pakistan one, in particular, but at no stage was she flustered. In fact, she showed great aplomb and kept a calm head. She is making full use of the resources at her disposal and hasn’t shied away from taking inputs from the senior players in the side too. 

While South Africa have done exceedingly well with the ball, it’s their batting that is yet to come to the party. Most of their batters have failed to make use of the two opportunities that have been presented to them and it is a point of concern for the team management. 

Laura Wolvaardt has been the only exception. She looked good against Bangladesh in the first game as she scored a well-made 41 but was in greater control during her 91-ball 75 against Pakistan. There have been two things, in particular, that she has done incredibly well. Firstly, her ability to pick up the length quickly is something that allows her to get into an ideal position. 

Anything that has been pitched short to her has been treated with utter disdain whether it’s square of the wicket on the off-side or with a pull shot on the on-side, she has not let any scoring opportunity slip away from her. Secondly, she is not someone who shuffles a great deal against the spinners. She stays stable and waits for them to err in line and length and latches on to every scoring opportunity. The only thing that the 22-year old hasn’t done so far is that she has not been able to capitalize on the starts that she has got and hence has missed out on big scores.

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As far as England are concerned, they have far too many issues to deal with. They were unable to grab the chances that their bowlers created and were made to pay the price eventually in the last game against the Windies. They dropped both Hayley Matthews and Deandra Dottin within the first six overs and the duo managed to put on 81 runs for the opening wicket in quick time.

Heather Knight’s side has clearly struggled to maintain consistency. While their bowling looked off-colour in their tournament opener against the Aussies, it was their batting that failed to rise to the occasion in the last match. 

Katherine Brunt looked better in the last game as compared to the outing against Australia but was let down by the fielders. Even Sophie Ecclestone, who is arguably England’s biggest match-winner with the ball, had a poor first game but turned it around in fine fashion against Stafanie Taylor’s side and was the one who brought England back into the game. She strangulated the West Indian batters and bagged three for 20 in her ten overs, including four maidens. 

Their top-order crumbled under pressure in the last match and except for Tammy Beaumont, no one else really troubled the scorers too much. Lauren Winfield-Hill, the other opener is struggling to support her fellow opener and hence an early setback up front is putting immense pressure on the top-order. Knight, who is the fulcrum of the batting order, hasn’t delivered as per her reputation and that must be adding to the immense pressure that she is under right now.

The South African seam attack has been able to make the ball talk and the rhythm they have found will make the job of the English batters more cumbersome.

What they said:

Well, obviously they’ve got Lizelle Lee back who’s been in quarantine and missed that first game and didn’t play against us in the warm up game. So we’re obviously very aware of the way that she bats at the top of the order. And that’s something that’s going to be a big challenge for us, I think. But they’ve also been a team that when they’re playing well, they’re quite a dominant team. And I think that’s something that actually bodes quite well for us in terms of the things that we wanted to improve on. So we know that our bowling probably hasn’t been a standard that we expect of ourselves of the unit that we’ve got, and kind of particularly in the wides that we’ve been bowling recently. So it’ll be a good challenge, but I think it’s going to be a really good game for us to get out there and I guess prove people wrong because we’ve not – so we’ve certainly not played the cricket that we want to yet,”

– Kate Cross on South Africa as a potential threat.

“I don’t think so. You know, it’s was five years ago. I think a lot has happened in those five years. I think both teams have grown. I think the players’ games have changed. So I don’t think we need to look too much into that semifinal. So I think tomorrow’s a new game, a whole new stage, New World Cup as well. So we’ll just take it as it is,”

– Sune Luus on the agonising defeat they suffered at the hands of England in the 2017 World Cup semi-final.

Players to watch out for:

Laura Wolvaardt: The 22-year old opening batter is one of those players who knows her game really well and plays well within her range. With the English pace battery struggling to operate in tandem, Wolvaardt can make them pay with her flamboyant strokeplay. Although she hasn’t scored a big hundred despite getting good starts, this could be the game that could see her bring up three figures.

Heather Knight: The English skipper has a lot of pedigree as a batter and has won many matches for England in the past. She was batting really well in the first game but only scored a five in the last game. Her record against the Proteas is outstanding. In 12 games, she has scored 390 runs at a jaw-dropping average of 97.50, so she clearly likes the Proteas’ bowling attack and will look to better her record tomorrow and lead her team to their first victory in the tournament.

Numbers: 

Head to head: Played 38 matches, England 29 – 8 South Africa, 1 No Result

Predicted XI:

South Africa: Lizelle Lee, Laura Wolvaardt, Tazmin Brits, Sune Luus (c), Mignon du Preez, Marizanne Kapp, Chloe Tryon, Trisha Chetty (wk), Shabnim Ismail, Masabata Klaas, Ayabonga Khaka

England: Lauren Winfield-Hill, Tammy Beaumont, Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver, Amy Jones (wk), Danielle Wyatt, Sophia Dunkley, Katherine Brunt, Sophie Ecclestone, Kate Cross, Anya Shrubsole